An owl has raised a duckling, taking it under her wings after mistaking the bird’s egg as one of her own.
Wildlife artist and amateur photographer Laurie Wolf from Jupiter, Florida, noticed an eastern screech owl had moved into a nest box in her backyard last month.
Checking in recently, Wolf noticed something fluffy in the box with the owl, so suspected it was a hatchling.
Taking a closer look, Laurie was shocked that the baby was a yellow and black duckling which the owl was raising.
Speaking to National Geographic, Wolf said:
The two of them were just sitting there side by side. It’s not believable. It’s not believable to me to this day.
I don’t think I’ll ever experience anything like that in my life again.
Concerned that the predatory owl might eat the duck chick, Laurie contacted a bird expert who said she was right to be fearful.
A local wildlife sanctuary agreed to look after the duckling if Wolf could catch it.
However, as she attempted to capture the bird, it jumped out of the nest box and ran over to a nearby pond never to be seen again.
Sharing an update on her Facebook page, Laurie wrote:
A bit later, the baby duck was in the hole by itself, calling for the parents. We believe they heard each other because it suddenly left the box and made a beeline for the back fence and our neighbour’s pond where the woodies have been hanging out.
Also we had seen a female wood duck – about three or four weeks ago, remove a duck egg from a box that had been raided by something, and fly off toward this box with it.
We lost it in the trees and didn’t want to disturb it. But we believe she put it in this box and the owl hatched it.
According to Christian Artuso, the Manitoba director of Bird Studies Canada, there are records of wood ducks living with eastern screech owls.
He told National Geographic ‘it’s not commonly documented, but it certainly happens’, observing himself a female owl who hatched three wood duck chicks in 2005.
Artuso said wood ducks practice ‘brood parasitism’, which means parent ducks will sometimes lay eggs in someone else’s nest, which could belong to another species.
You could think of it as not keeping all your eggs in one basket. If you spread your eggs out, then your chances of passing on your genes are increased slightly, especially if you lose your own eggs to a predator.
We know this occurs, but we really don’t know the frequency. So I was happy to see another example of this.
The parents might be thinking, Oh my god! This egg is huge! We’re going to have the best baby in the world!
I just hope the duckling never forgets the mother owl who raised it!
To check out Laurie’s art and photography, you can visit her website.
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Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.